Microscope Brings Macro Potential

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LSU Chemical Engineering Assistant Professor Kevin McPeak, PhD, and a team of LSU College of Engineering and LSU College of Science faculty members have been awarded a $665,000 Major Research Instrumentation grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The team received the grant to obtain a near-field optical microscope with functions that make it unique worldwide.

"This microscope is a major recruiting tool for both students and faculty, as well as driving external researchers to the LSU Center for Advanced Microstructures and Devices," explained McPeak.

The microscope will be installed in early 2021 and opens LSU to new partnerships with industry leaders. LSU's near-field optical microscope will also be one of only three connected to synchrotrons—large machines that accelerate electrons to the speed of light—in the United States. Furthermore, it will have additional spectroscopy modes that the others do not, making it unique worldwide.

This incredible tool will exponentially improve the precision of potential research, as well as provide students with access to unmatched scientific instrumentation. One known use for the microscope is to characterize molecules within pharmaceuticals down to the nanoparticle. This application allows researchers to study pharmaceutical drugs' composition and stability within the compound, eliminating the need for simulations or models. Researchers can determine how a drug might be absorbed in the body and how it might interact with other chemicals.

Along with submitting their stellar proposal, the team of faculty members was also tasked with securing matching funding to be considered for the NSF grant. Alumnus Rene Joyce (Engineering, '70) is a dedicated supporter of the College of Engineering, and he recently made a flexible gift to be used wherever the college felt it could make the biggest impact. Judy Wornat, ScD, dean of the College of Engineering, Bert S. Turner Chair in Engineering, Robert Hughes Harvey Professor, and William G. Reymond Professor, allocated a portion of that gift to the team’s matching funds. Joyce is no stranger to leading the way for the college. He was also instrumental in the expansion and revitalization of Patrick F. Taylor Hall, contributing the first $1 million.

"It is exciting to see that my gift is being used to leverage and advance the research of such talented professors and offer world-class opportunities to students. I have utilized my education and am fortunate to be in a position to give back,” said Joyce. 

“It is important that LSU has the tools needed to compete and surpass its peers when it comes to research. I am thrilled to see the progress being made by the College of Engineering and by LSU," Joyce continued.

Joining McPeak on this project were Louis Haber, PhD, associate professor of chemistry; James Dorman, PhD, assistant professor of chemical engineering; Christopher Arges, PhD, assistant professor of chemical engineering; and Omar Magana-Loaiza, PhD, assistant professor of physics.

The team members specialize in areas like optical materials engineering, electrochemical engineering, nanomaterials, and optical physics, to name a few, so they are well prepared to utilize the new microscope. Working with colleagues across two LSU colleges makes the microscope a "unifying instrument" and will catapult scientific discoveries and new materials built here.